Hanoi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Hanoi and Beijing intend to maintain for the future peace and stability in the South China Sea, avoiding any action and gesture that could "complicate" tensions between the two countries in the disputed waters, says Chinese state television, at the conclusion of a two-day official visit of the President Xi Jinping in Vietnam.
A fierce dispute had been mounting between the two (former) Communist allies, for supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region. There is a group of disputed islands (Spratly and Paracel) at the heart of the dispute which also involved the Philippines and other nations in the region. The situation is further complicated by the recent passage of US warships in an area claimed exclusively by China.
Tensions were further heightened between China and Vietnam, following Beijing’s decision in May last year to place a giant drill for oil drilling off the Vietnamese coast, in an area disputed between the two countries. The incident triggered a series of anti-China protests in Vietnam, which were repeated in these days to coincide with Xi Jinping’s visit. The police response was swift and harsh, especially in the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), where demonstrators were subjected to violence and arrests.
In his speech to Parliament Vietnamese President Xi he said that "the friendship between the peoples of China and Vietnamese is rooted deep in time" and in the struggle for liberation and independence "we fought side by side." The head of state assured that his nation gives great importance to relations with Vietnam, to strengthen these bonds in the interests of stability, however without explicit mention of the controversy over the South China Sea.
Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, is launching an appeal to the Chinese leader Xi Jinping not to "militarize" the seas and ensure that territorial disputes will not "break" the cultural, ideological and economic ties, between neighbors. Hanoi hopes for the formation of a "negotiation mechanism" to settle disputes and "long-term solutions acceptable to both sides."
In recent years, Vietnam and the Philippines - which has taken its case to a UN court - have shown growing concern over China's "imperialism" in the South and East China Seas. The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational".
Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it. Almost uninhabited, the area's islands are thought to hold extensive oil and natural gas reserves as well as other raw materials.